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Iraq on highest alert for terror attacks

world Updated: Aug 28, 2010 17:38 IST

Iraq's prime minister put his nation on its highest level of alert for terror attacks, warning of plots to sow fear and chaos as the US combat mission in the country formally ends on Tuesday.

The Iraqi security forces who will be left in charge of guarding the nation have been hammered by near-daily bomb attacks, prompting criticism of the government's readiness for the American troop drawdown.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Friday that Iraqi intelligence indicated an al-Qaeda front group and members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party are collaborating to launch attacks "to create fear and chaos and kill more innocents."

"We direct the Iraqi forces, police and army and other security forces, to take the highest alert and precautionary measures to foil this criminal planning," al-Maliki said in a statement to state-run television.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official said security forces believe suicide bombers have entered the country with plans to strike unspecified targets in Baghdad by month's end. The official did not know how many bombers or where they would attack, and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

Al-Maliki said insurgents would try to exploit widespread frustration with years of frequent power outages and problems with other public services by staging riots and attacks on government offices.

"They will also work on taking advantage of some of the crises of services ... to spread chaos," he said.

Hours after the prime minister's remarks, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for more than two dozen bombings and shootings across the nation this week that killed 56 people -- more than half of them Iraqi soldiers and policemen.

In a statement posted on a militant website on Saturday, the group said the coordinated attacks targeted the "headquarters and centres and security barriers for the army and the apostate police."

Insurgents have intensified attacks on Iraqi police and soldiers, making August the deadliest month for Iraqi security personnel in two years: On average, five were killed each day.

US forces have an August 31 deadline for ending combat operations after seven years of war and transitioning to primarily training and advising Iraqi troops. American troops can still go on combat patrols with Iraqi soldiers and police if asked.